Three Days In Marfa

Marfa Lights
{Last April JRF and I took a road trip to Marfa. It was magical. As we approach this holiday weekend, I am really ready to sit by a pool and enjoy a refreshing adult beverage but, alas, I have three papers to write, an exam, tons of reading, and a sermon to prepare. (All of which is wonderful and exciting so please don’t feel too sorry for me. Oh, you weren’t? Good. Anyway, I am taking a trip down memory lane. Come with me, won’t you?}

Our third annual girls’ trip couldn’t have come at a better time.  I needed a breath of fresh air in the midst of wedding planning and Jenny needed a break from her busy and wonderful two year old.  We are both city girls at heart but wanted something different.  A road trip seemed like just the ticket—a few days to unplug, see some beautiful country, read, and soak up a little sun.

We knew we’d come to the right place as soon as we got there.  The tables at Padre’s were full of people finishing beer and tacos and a few haphazard rows were set up in between.  A makeshift screen had been set up and the lights were dimmed.  And everyone was there for the same reason—to watch Marfa’s 60 Minutes segment airing that night.  Morley Safer and his staff did a great job of capturing the crazy juxtaposition of quirky artists and hipsters with cattle ranchers, border patrol way stations, and dust storms.  The best part was how everyone watching laughed at all the same lines and got excited together when a friend appeared onscreen.  When the segment ended, everyone applauded, the lights came up, and two bartenders started closing out tabs.

Morley was right about Marfa.  It has sparse beauty and small town charm.  The sunsets and openness of the land somehow make it easier to take a deep breath here.  And there’s something about the countryside that makes you want to create something beautiful.  I can see why artists are drawn here. There’s a semi-permanent Andy Warhol exhibit, Donald Judd’s boxes are scattered like cattle in a field near the Chinati Foundation, and a growing number of wonderful small museum spaces are here, too.  Ballroom Marfa is even building a drive-in movie theater and stage.

The food, when anyone feels like opening up, is surprisingly delicious.  I might have had the best cocktail of my life at Cochineal.  There are even some great places to stay. You can sleep in a real live teepee if the mood strikes and there’s not a hail, lightening, or dust storm.  And, of course, the Marfa lights are mysterious and amazing.  (My money’s on the aliens.*)  The Davis Mountains, hot springs, and the MacDonald Observatory are all within an hour drive.

But in the end it’s the people that make Marfa.  What we saw in those first moments was only reinforced the rest of the week.  It was fun to see locals of all ages hanging out and catching up wherever we went.  At Future Shark, old-fashioned (yet delicious) cafeteria food is served on long tables flanked with benches.  And nearly every one of them was full of people with wrinkles and white hair meeting kids in their twenties or thirties for lunch.  It made Jenny and I both realize how much we wish we saw that kind of thing everywhere.  Everyone was glad to be there.  And everyone we met, with the exception of one cranky store clerk, was super laid back and friendly.

I’d heard of Marfa before but couldn’t understand why anyone would want to make the eight-hour drive to get to a flat, dusty wasteland.  Now I get it.  Marfa is in the middle of nowhere but it’s full of people who love each other and their town.  And how could anyone not fall in love with that?

**We met a cute couple from Austin who watched the Marfa lights with us. She was a pastry chef and he a PhD student at UT. We got to see the moon and JUPITER through his fancy telescope=WIN.

dust storm 2013-04-15 14.35.23 2013-04-15 23.28.34



Time To Fly

I wrote this months ago but waited to post until Torey and Craig’s first anniversary…

I believe in serendipity, signs, synchronicity, providence. That’s why when I glanced out the kitchen window to see a bird’s nest on the grass the day before my daughter’s wedding, it didn’t seem like a coincidence to me. I walked outside to pick it up from where it had blown down, no longer needed. And I can see it from where I’m sitting now, a cozy and intricately made home sitting under a glass dome on a shelf. (Cheesy metaphor? Absolutely. But if you think parenthood doesn’t entail a significant amount of cheesiness, you haven’t been paying attention. I say embrace it.)

That mama bird (and probably daddy, too) gathered branches and leaves to make a home that was beautiful and safe. They made sure the eggs stayed warm and then kept the babies fed until they were old enough to take care of themselves. They taught them to fly and might have even pushed them out if they were scared. It was for the best. They needed to know what they could do.

Isn’t that exactly what being a parent is all about? It’s making a safe place as long as it’s needed and then, when the time is right, setting them free to fly. Why stay huddled among the sticks and dead leaves if the sky is your home?

That’s where I was on that sunny afternoon a year ago. Staring at a nest and knowing it was time to let my beautiful baby girl go and become a family with someone else. And I was hoping against hope that I was ready. That her dad was ready. Most of all, that she was ready.  Because it was time.

First it was finishing high school. Then it had been moving her into a series of dorm rooms and apartments, watching her become her own person, surrounded with friends and a life that suited her. Before I could blink, it was time for her to put on a cap and gown and become a college graduate. But this was different. Even her name was going to change.

I’ll always be her mother, of course. I’ll be there for her and she’ll never, ever stop being my daughter. Yet, as I watched her radiant face gaze up into Craig’s during the ceremony the next day, I knew this was an end of one thing even as it was the beginning of another. And I remembered all those years ago when I discovered I was expecting her. Something fundamental changed in me that day. In an instant, I knew that I’d give everything I had to help her become the woman she was meant to be.

I watched Torey and Craig laugh through the ceremony for pure joy with a deep peace of my own, knowing that she is more than I could have ever hoped. She is strong, confident, beautiful, and humble. She has an independent mind and a passionate heart. She knows what she believes but is willing to listen. She’s a wonderful friend and she loves to laugh.

Please don’t misunderstand me–God and Torey get all the credit for the incredible person she is. But Kyle and I did our best to make a safe place for her to become the best version of herself. We made lots of mistakes but we got some things right, too. I think she always knew she was safe and loved. That her life was infinitely valuable to us and that she’d never been unwanted for a single instant of her life.

And while it’s hard to imagine any man could ever be good enough for my precious girl, Craig is on the right track. He’s smart and a hard worker and a good friend. He’s humble and teachable and fun and kind. He’s a little bit crazy which will serve him well with my dynamic girl–his girl now. Best of all, he treasures her like I do. He sees how special she is. He gets her.

They still have a lot to learn about life and they’ll learn it together. Kyle and I, Earl and Denise, and other mentors are available for advice but they’re calling the shots. It’s okay—they were ready.

{Happy 1st Anniversary, Torey and Craig. I love you both big as a road.}







A List

In honor of mother’s day, and on this side of motherhood, I have a few things to pass on to my friends who are still in the trenches:

  1. Be a parent, not a best bud. Your kid will have plenty of friends (especially once you teach her how to be a friend). Parenting isn’t a popularity contest and that’s a good thing because you’d lose.
  2. Don’t be afraid to show him what he should say yes to and what he should say no to. We have more freedom of choice at this point in history than ever before. Choice is truly a wonderful thing but it can quickly become dangerous or overwhelming without boundaries. That’s where you come in. Don’t be afraid to tell him in age appropriate ways what’s off limits for them and why. But choose your battles.
  3. Balance the boundaries with lots of freedom. Embrace creativity and whimsy and the occasional touch of chaos.
  4. Admit when you make a mistake. (You will. Often.) Show them how to apologize. Model humility and teachability. Show her that she doesn’t have to be perfect.
  5. Teach modesty both in the sense of dressing in ways that demonstrate self-respect and in the sense of humility (see above).
  6. Teach them to celebrate and embrace their masculinity or femininity and their own unique worth. The world (and, sadly, often the church, too) wants them to be ashamed of their bodies.
  7. Let your home be the place where the kids hang out as much as possible. As tired as you’ll sometimes be, don’t use other kid’s parents as free babysitting.
  8. Laugh with them. Make funny faces in the bathroom mirror. Play in the mud and the rain. Dance. Make a mess. Be silly.
  9. Teach them—boys and girls—how to sew a hem and a button; how to make at least one meal other than breakfast; how to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ (and why); how to do their own laundry; and how to change a tire.
  10. Don’t lose yourself. It might seem like love at the time to pour every bit of your energy and time into your kids but it isn’t. Show your kids how to live a life well. If you’re married, date your husband. Practice self-care. Be who you are meant to be, the person you’ll continue to be once the kids are grown and gone. You’re modeling how to be a whole and holy human for them and that’s love.
  11. Never forget that what you’re doing matters. You aren’t creating a human being–that was done for you. But you and everyone else who loves your kid are making an environment that makes it possible for that amazing human being to become what she or he was meant to be. And that’s something worth spending your life on.


Mother-Daughter Fredericksburg Trip

Mother-Daughter Fredericksburg Trip (September 2012)


Meeting Nikhil

meeting nikhil

In a lot of ways, Nikhil is exactly what I expected him to be.  On his sponsor card, he is cute kid with a huge smile and is described as “excellent in his studies,” “well behaved,” and, my favorite, having a “heart to respect his teachers.”  You can tell from his picture that he not likely to talk your ear off.  There is a sweetness in his expression that makes you imagine a kind and introspective boy who doesn’t do a lot of rough housing.

On our first day at Madanpur Khader, I didn’t see Nikhil.  It was on our second visit to third grade class that I spotted him. I got to tell the children that if God clothes the flowers with more splendor than a king that he’ll surely provide everything we need.  We were making tissue paper flowers as a reminder.  As I knelt to help some children near the front of the room, I heard one of the people on my team say his name.  Looking up, I couldn’t miss him—beanie pulled down to his eyebrows and sitting next to a taller girl, working intently on his flower.

I made my way over and explained that I was his friend from America and asked if he remembered getting my letter.  He didn’t J.  He kept glancing shyly at his seatmates who were much more ready to talk with me than he was.  I explained that I was going to visit him at home in a few days and asked if that was ok.  With his eyes glued to his flower, he nodded.  I learned that his favorite color is yellow and that he isn’t an only child like it says on his card and that he actually has two sisters.

A few days later, we were back at Madanpur Khader to do a skit with the kids.  When Nikhil’s class filed out, I called his name and said hello.  It was one of the highlights of my week when I got a real smile in return.  I also got to see he was never far from his best friend when they weren’t seated in the classroom.  It was so sweet to see them walk arm in arm together.

Later that day, I got to visit his home.  It was like much like the others in the community.  One room with a huge wooden slab that served as couch, dining table, and family bed and concrete walls. Nikhil’s home was a great example of the crazy juxtapositions that come up in developing nations and among the poorest of the poor—their family of five lives in a single room without running water but had a computer that was logged onto facebook when we were there.

It was wonderful to meet his gentle mother and two precious older sisters.  His mother seemed as shy as Nikhil even if there hadn’t been a language barrier between us.  His two older sisters were much more outgoing.  I was excited to hear that they are both students as well.  His oldest sister is actually studying the same subject as my college aged daughter.  She insisted on a picture with just the two of us before we left.

I really underestimated what it would mean to meet Nikhil.  Don’t get me wrong–I expected it to be really neat to be introduced to a flesh and blood person.  But it was more than that. I think the main thing that changed for me after meeting Nikhil is considering and praying for him not merely as an individual but as a son, a brother, and a friend.  I feel a connection to him and to his siblings my previous information told me didn’t exist.  I want him to grow up to realize all the promise of his gentle spirit and studious nature in a deeper way.  I want his sisters to lead change for their nation and for women in particular as they pursue their careers. I want Nikhil’s life and work and marriage and children to be forever changed because of the excellent education and kindness he received from the Good Samaritan School.  I want his family to meet a God who loves them more than they can imagine.  And for my part, I definitely want to visit him and his family again!

PS Find out more and get involved at

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Austin French Fry Tour-W Edition

I pay attention to my health.  I try to be wise and eat right, exercise, and what have you.  The body is the temple of the Spirit, right?  So I work out, eat stuff like quinoa and kale, and take herbs and get acupuncture for my allergies and such.  I even went gluten and (cow’s) dairy free about a year ago.  I had lunch at a vegan raw food restaurant with a friend today.  You could definitely call me a health nut.  But that doesn’t keep me from loving a great glass of red wine or chips and salsa or French fries.  In fact, and I don’t like to brag, I’m kind of a connoisseur of fries.  So when a fellow expert/aficionado suggested we team up for an Austin French fry tour, we both knew immediately she’d stumbled upon an incredible idea.  We love fries. You love fries.  We can tell you where to find the best ones in town.  They’ll be presented in no particular order as we go.  But don’t worry: Jenny and I will tell you our top 5 when the tour is done.


Jenny and I got a chance to see St. Vincent on Monday.  The girl had definitely earned a night out after a grueling weekend with a sleepless teething baby and I was happy to tag along.  What can I say? I’m a great friend.

The W was a logical choice for pre-show snacking since it’s next door to ACL.  Capitalism working for the people is what that is.  Here’s the thing about the W:  It’s a little too swank and formal for Austin.  It seems like a place that would be more at home in Houston or Dallas than Austin.  I’ve got to be honest; I was really annoyed when construction began a few years ago.  I didn’t want to like it but I just can’t help myself.  The décor and design is so smart and well done.  The cocktails are incredible.  And I haven’t had anything to eat there that didn’t make me want to basically write a poem about it.  I love the W in spite of myself.

We decided on the album room because there were two majorly comfy chairs in the corner and the wall of vinyl seemed the perfect vibe for the music we were about to enjoy.  We promptly ordered the fries (obviously).  They are truffle oil and salt covered perfection.  The texture is just what I want in a French fry.  Not too thick and not too thin and crisp without making you feel like you’re going to chip your teeth.  They have a little bit of potato skin left on for texture and are finished with a hint of minced fresh herbs for color.

The fries come with two sauces.  One is a spicy barbeque sauce.  It has a sweet and subtle spicy flavor with a smoky undertone.  The other is a creamy chipotle aioli that has a similar subtle spice and smoky flavor without the tomato base of the other sauce.  Both were delicious on their own but I have to say they just didn’t match the flavor of the fries.  We were wishing we had the calamata olive aioli that Nordstrom serves with their fries.  (We’ll be talking about those fries soon, don’t worry.)

I know what you’re thinking and you’re right.  Those fries are a bit rich.  That’s why we paired them with the pulled pork tostados and a couple of cocktails.  After an hour or so of catching up without dogs, kids, or husbands, Jenny was looking like a new woman.  Great start to a great night!  I highly recommend the W for a date night or girl’s night out.  Either way, don’t forget to order the fries.  Public service announcement: This place is pricy and you’ll probably have to pay for parking even if you don’t use their valet service so you won’t want to make this a weekly stop off.  Which is probably a good thing for your health.

So what are your favorite Austin fries?

fries @ the W

st. vincent @ acl live

Hot Dog

It is hot.  So hot that Barnes has taken to stopping abruptly and flopping down anytime there is a shady spot of grass on our walks.  Be sure to have some ice water nearby as you watch (and if you live in texas, make sure your pets have plenty of fresh water and aren’t outside for too long…they don’t have sweat glands to cool themselves off, people!).

This Year in Kyle

One of my favorite things about being married to Kyle is that he is hilarious.  Sometimes he means to be and sometimes…he just is.  On the day of his birth, I want to share a little of my joy with the world.  Please join me in celebrating another edition of this year in Kyle.

He says funny things.

Take these quotes for instance (Evernote is a great tool for capturing these gems on the go).

  1. To a concierge who’d asked what kind of food we like so he could give a better restaurant recommendation:  “ We like soup, protein, and Italian food.”
  2. About a Prince song that was playing in a restaurant: “What is that song he sings, ‘Bark like a Dove’?”
  3. “Do you agree with [this lyric] from Death Cab for Cootie?”
  4. While wiping the sweat from his brow during a game, “People don’t think Ping Pong is a workout but it is.”
  5. And speaking of Ping Pong, “It’s hard to imagine something more fun than tackling another guy.  I mean ping pong is fun, climbing mountains is great, but tackling…”
  6. While browsing Netflix instant play, “Nicolas Cage [a favorite actor of his at one point] sure has a lot of one-stars.”
  7. After losing a competition in a made up game that involved racing astride pool noodles, “At least I rode my seahorse with integrity.”

And strange, semi-harmful things happen to him with greater frequency than they do to you or me.

Take, for example, a day last summer when he still worked on South Congress.  It was not long after the Subway slapping incident I’m sure you all remember from last year.  He was again walking on the sidewalk, again minding his own business when a segway came screaming around a corner and smashed into him.  Instantly, Kyle was down as the segway driver fell one way and the segway fell another.  Kyle lay on the concrete gazing at the sky and pondering the nature of his life.  Real life Arrested Development.

Then there was the time that he was at the mission house a few weeks ago.  Clean up and rebuilding has finally begun (Thank God!).  He was there after dark taking care of some paper work and organization.  He decided to take a break to have a run in our old neighborhood.  A run in the dark might sound like a questionable idea to some…but not to our hero.  After a refreshing jog, he pelted down the driveway and began sprinting toward the mission house.  He quickly realized two things.  One, the workmen had moved the picnic table that day.  Two, that table was sure hard to see in the dark.  Again, he found himself bruised and knocked flat as he gazed at the sky (filled with stars this time).  And, who knows, maybe he saw a few more circling his head along with a cartoon bird or two.

Lest you think this kind of thing is a recent development, consider these stories from the past. 

Kyle has always overflowed with energy.  His “I have restless legs syndrome” t-shirt is very apt.  When he was young enough to still be in a crib but old enough to pull himself up on the side, he realized that if he held on he could jump a lot higher than if he wasn’t grasping the side.  His parents remember his legs flying up higher than the top of the crib when they peeked in during his “nap.”  He broke the crib multiple times and his dad kept repairing it.  Finally, he reinforced the base to the best of his ability.  He–an adult male–got inside and jumped up and down to confirm it was unbreakable.  But it wasn’t.  Kyle had broken it again within the week.  His grandparents refused to babysit him when he was small not because they didn’t love spending time with him but because they were terrified he’d end up getting hurt when their backs were turned.

A favorite memory of Kyle’s (other than tackling during high school football games, of course) is living near a grape orchard in Bentonville, Arkansas during elementary school.  He remembers seeing Sam Walton pull up to the local Dairy Queen in his old beat up truck.  Kyle and his pals Virgil Oliver and Hank Williams (their real names) loved to gather mushy overripe grapes and throw them at passing cars from their hiding place in the bushes.  It was great fun seeing the cars get pelted and the occasional person who stopped harmlessly berated their unseen attackers.  Until one day.  A car drove past with its windows down.   The boys threw their handfuls of grapes.  Fruit splattered satisfyingly on the interior of the car and the driver himself.  Who promptly screeched to a stop and jumped out.  The boys realized they were in trouble and started running.  He was too fast for them.  He caught up with them and marched them to their respective homes to tell their parents what they’d been up to.  Probably grabbed them by their collars.  People did that kind of thing back then.

His love of justice sometimes puts him in interesting situations.

Kyle never hesitates to defend when he senses someone is endangering or mistreating others.  He’s the kind of guy you want on your team; the kind of guy you’d want by your side if you had to go into battle.

And he’s not opposed to sort of streeetchinggg the truth if it means he can put a bad guy in his place.  Here’s what I mean.  We were driving home to East Texas for one holiday or another some years ago.  As we slowed to match the reduced speed limit of yet another small town, we caught up with a car that was weaving badly.  Finally, the driver swerved off the main road and put his car in park near an old building.  Thank goodness, Torey and I thought.  But Kyle needed to investigate.  He pulled in beside the car and hopped out as I protested.  We heard him tell the intoxicated driver, ‘I’m an off-duty police officer and it appears that you have been drinking.’  The result of the ensuing dialogue with the drunken man was that he promised to sleep it off in his car, surrendered his alcohol to Kyle for him to discard, and put his keys in his glovebox.  Chagrined, he apologized profusely to Kyle.  I mean, come on, he didn’t want to get arrested.

This may surprise you but Kyle is actually quite a dancer.

[Disclaimer:  The reason that I am laughing off-camera instead of in the dancing circle is that I am a punk.  Just before they invited the audience to join them in this dance, I’d been talking about how charming the older white haired woman was and how I wanted to be like her when I was her age.  When I was 75, I told them, I was definitely going to have a dance recital.  No sooner were those words out of my mouth than they were inviting people to come dance with them.  At which point I completely chickened out.  I’m shy, man.  (That’s why I have to wait until I’m 75 to have the recital.)  So, Kyle jumped in trying to make me feel comfortable to join in the dance.  But I didn’t…I just watched and videoed and laughed at him.  Like I said, I’m a punk.  But the world is a better place because if I’d joined the dance, this video wouldn’t exist.]

Happy birthday, Kyle!  I’m glad I’m married to you.

{If this has reminded you of a favorite Kyle story, post it in the comments or send him an email or text wishing him happy birthday!}

Want more?  Click here to read last year’s blog: